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A Question of Spontaneity

I am not a spontaneous person.

When a surprise invitation or opportunity appears, there’s a 50/50 chance I’ll pass it up. Maybe even 60/40. Maybe even more, but I don’t want to admit that to myself.

Spontaneity is a good thing. I know this because in romance movies, guys always dump their tightly-wound girlfriends for kooky, devil-may-care, spontaneous girls.

And I can see for myself that spontaneous people lead colorful lives full of surprise.

My life is pretty interesting, but it’s more a trip on a lazy river than a thrilling tumble down whitewater rapids.

Is that OK?

One blog I read said that opposite of spontaneity is cowardice. But I’m not a particularly fearful person. I’ve been brave. At 22, I moved halfway across the country to start life in a new place for no particular reason. I quit a good job to be a freelance writer. (Brave? Stupid? You decide.) I travel alone frequently. I’m no risk taker, but I’m not a coward.

Actually, if you want to be harsh about it, the opposite of spontaneity might be laziness. Sometimes being spontaneous just sounds like a lot of work. Or perhaps it’s inertia. Is inertia always bad? Doesn’t it keep things from flying around all over the place for no reason?

Other reasons I might choose not to be spontaneous:

  • Hassle factor: Where will I park? Do I have to put on make-up?
  • Financial concerns: Does it sound like $50 worth of fun to me?
  • People: Do I feel like dealing with people or would I rather just hang at home?

Spontaneity is easiest for  low-hassle, inexpensive things that don’t require dressing up or involve a large group of people. Call me up last minute for dinner in the ‘hood, and I’m there. Call me at 5 p.m. with tickets to a show across town at 8, and if I’m not hot to see the show, I’ll probably pass. A spontaneous person would probably go just for the hell of it.

The more time I have to wrap my brain around an invitation, the better. I can pull it together in a couple of hours, but 30 minutes is tough. An invitation that requires dropping everything and running can put me into brain lock. My brain does not turn on a dime.

Is it possible that some sort of brain processing speed is involved?

Is spontaneity inborn or learned? I’ve done spontaneous things in my life and many have been fun. Yet even that intermittent reinforcement hasn’t conditioned me to be more spontaneous.

Is it related to personality? It could be the O in OCEAN*–Openness to Experience. But a psychologist once told me that I’m off the charts in that. I like lots of experiences, but I like them planned out and thought through. And with advance notice.

Maybe it’s related to the N:  Neuroticism. Perhaps the less neurotic you are, the easier it is to be spontaneous. I’m neurotic. Just ask anyone. It could be related to Extroversion. Extroverts need a lot of stimulation. I’m an introvert. You could also make a case for spontaneity being related to the Conscientiousness or Agreeableness.

Do spontaneous people actually live better/more fun/more exciting lives? Are they happier? More successful? What are the cost-benefits of a spontaneous vs. unspontaneous style? Does spontaneity have any particular psychological or psychosocial purpose?

Like many researchers, my interest in a subject is spurred by personal concerns. What I’m really asking here is: Is there any compelling reason I should try to be more spontaneous? Or does it not really matter? Because if it’s all the same, I’ll just stay the course.

* OCEAN is the acronym for the Big Five traits, personality traits that researchers believe remain mostly stable over the lifespan.

Photo by f minus via Flickr (Creative Commons).

A Question of Spontaneity

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APA Reference
Dembling, S. (2011). A Question of Spontaneity. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 11, 2020, from


Last updated: 6 Oct 2011
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